The final episode of “The Wendy Williams Show” premiered Friday without its eponymous host, who has been absent from the program since July. Williams previously vowed to return before the series wrapped, but her plan didn’t pan out.
Included in the finale was a video tribute to Williams, who helmed “The Wendy Williams Show” for 12 seasons before exiting the syndicated daytime series for health reasons. The host of Friday’s episode was Sherri Shepherd, who is slated to take over Williams’ time slot with her own talk show this fall.
In February, media company Debmar-Mercury announced that Williams’ popular program would be coming to an end this year. The announcement came several months after the former radio DJ bid farewell to audiences at the end of Season 12.
Though her hiatus was only supposed to last “two months and two weeks,” it was extended due to myriad health issues, including a case of COVID-19 and Williams’ ongoing battle with Graves’ disease, a thyroid-related autoimmune condition.
While Williams has been out, a number of guest hosts — including Shepherd, Michael Rapaport, Leah Remini, Fat Joe, Whitney Cummings and others — have been emceeing the 13th and final season of the program.
At the top of the episode, Shepherd reflected on the “honor and privilege” it was to be part of the show’s extended run.
“This the most incredible staff and crew of ‘The Wendy Williams Show,’” Shepherd said, thanking them for supporting the guest hosts as they rotated through. “On behalf of all the guest hosts, I want to say thank you so much to all the loyal Wendy watchers for making this show a success for the last 14 years.”
“Most of all we have to thank you, Wendy Williams,” Shepherd continued, earning a standing ovation from the audience. “Because there is nobody like Wendy Williams. From her days on the radio to ruling daytime talk for 13 seasons, Wendy earned her title as the Queen of all Media. If you think about it, Wendy Williams changed daytime talk with her unique take, her one-of-a-kind celebrity interviews, the signature ‘Ask Wendy’ segments and of course, y’all, her famous ‘How you doin’? ‘ Absolutely. And I wanna say, Miss Wendy, you are an icon and you are loved by so many, so many.”
Vanessa Williams, who was the first guest on the show when it premiered in 2008, returned as the celebrity guest for the final installment. The “Ugly Betty” and “Daytime Divas” star described herself as a “true fan” of Wendy Williams since the former host’s early days on the radio.
“She was real. She is real — she’s still with us — and she’s resilient,” the stage and screen star said. “She’s a fighter and she’s real, she was down to earth, she said it like it was. She kept it 100 but she did it with fun. And she was articulate and funny and has all these weird ‘Wendyisms’ that we would grow to love and know. I’m really gonna miss the show and miss her presence. You know she’s unique.”
The episode also included a video tribute with memorable moments from the show, including game shows, interviews. The tribute also included notable celebrity guest spots with Joan Rivers, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bieber, Tracee Ellis Ross, Chris Rock, Diddy and Nicki Minaj that seemed tailor-made to welcome the former host back to the show’s stage.
But the episode cut to commercial instead.
The final moment of the show showed the cast and crew gathered onstage to send off the show — and presumably the host — with her signature line, gesturing with their hands as Williams does, and saying “How You Doin?”
“This is also a bitter-sweet moment for us and our partners at FOX,” Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, co-presidents of Debmar-Mercury said in a statement upon canceling “The Wendy Williams Show” in February.
“We all have a great love and affinity for Wendy, who grew into a true icon during her 12 incredible seasons as the solo host of a live, daily talk show dishing on ‘Hot Topics’ and interviewing celebrities. … We hope to be able to work with Wendy again in the future, and continue to wish her a speedy and full recovery.”
However, not everyone was happy with Friday’s send-off, including Wendy’s ex-husband Kevin Hunter.
“I feel like it is a travesty on the part of Debmar-Mercury to have such an unceremonious departure without Wendy being involved,” Hunter told “Entertainment Tonight.”
“It is the first time in the history of talk shows for this to be done, especially for a show that has been on for more than 10 years,” he continued. “There is absolutely no reason why a bigger celebration that involved Wendy couldn’t happen.”